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    August 23, 2022 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    Former Liberty University ACHA Division I women’s hockey defenseman Sally Hoerr is taking her game to the professional ranks as one of 21 members of the Premier Hockey Federation’s (PHF) newest expansion team in Montreal, which has yet to be named.

    The PHF was formerly known as the NWHL (National Women’s Hockey League), founded in 2015 with four teams. Two previous expansions grew it to six: the Boston Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale, Metropolitan (N.J.) Riveters, Minnesota Whitecaps, and the Toronto Six, formerly the Toronto Furies of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), added in 2020 after the CWHL ceased operations in 2019.

    Hoerr celebrates with her teammates after defending their national championship with a 4-1 win over Midland.

    Hoerr, who was a graduate student on the past two Lady Flames’ ACHA Division I National Championship teams after playing her undergraduate career at Grand Valley State, recently signed a one-year contract with the team.

    “I tried out for Buffalo and New Jersey within a two-week time period in early July, but they didn’t have a spot for me,” said Hoerr, who also served as an assistant to Varsity Club Director Ben Hughes this past year. “You just don’t know until you go. Those were super fun (and) I went and got some confidence. Just having that experience of trying out with other girls who could also be at that level was really validating. I wasn’t a huge standout, but for the abilities that I can offer as a defenseman, those were showcased pretty well.”

    Hearing that the expansion team was in need of players, Hoerr reached out to PHF Montreal President Kevin Raphaël and ended up signing without even trying out for the team.

    “I messaged him and said, ‘Hey, I’m interested, here’s my Elite Prospects profile. Let me know what you think,’” Hoerr said. “He wanted to set up a call the next week and he said, ‘I just called around and we’d love to have you.’ I was like, ‘Oh, great.’ I have no idea who he called (but) I’m signed and ready to go. I’ll be leaving here in (less than) three weeks. Sept. 16 is our first day of practice.”

    She said Raphaël has signed mostly French Canadians, including a number from the Montreal area, and she may be one of only two Americans on her team, as well as one of the few ACHA representatives in the PHF.

    “A couple of the girls played at the University of Vermont, so that’s probably the closest connection that I have,” said Hoerr, a native of Colchester, Vt., located just 45 minutes south of the Canadian border and another hour from Montreal. “Most of them are from Montreal or around Quebec or other places in Canada because they really want to bring that pro scene back there. We have a home rink (the Verdun Auditorium) which is designed to be the pinnacle of women’s hockey in Canada, but for our home games, we’re actually going all throughout Quebec, playing games everywhere, to showcase the team. I think the fan base there will be pretty big and that will be exciting.”

    Her parents are looking forward to seeing her play professionally, after missing most of her high school career played in Portsmouth Abbey, R.I., and collegiate career at Grand Valley (Mich.) and in Lynchburg, Va.

    Hoerr, who received an undergraduate degree in film and video at Grand Valley State, completed her M.A. in Strategic Communication at Liberty in 2021 before starting an M.S. in Sport Management with a coaching emphasis last year, which she plans to continue online this fall.

    Hoerr demonstrates her offensive abilities as a defenseman, starting a break beside Lady Flames forward Yannick Truter.

    She expects the biggest difference between starting life at Liberty and  launching a professional hockey career in Canada will be the level of experience of the average player.

    “Everybody is coming from teams like the NCAA or pro teams in Europe and they’ve been doing it forever, being in that type of competitive environment that we try to reflect here at Liberty,” Hoerr said. “It was the same thing when I came to Liberty, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It will be interesting to see. It’s pretty crazy because you look at the players and … this girl’s been playing pro hockey for 10 years … this person had her jersey number retired because she scored the most goals ever in her league. You see that in your teammates and you’re like, ‘Oh, man. I’ve got a couple steps to walk up here.’”

    Hoerr said she raised her playing abilities at least a few notches through her two seasons of experience at Liberty, and from working over the summer with Club Sports Director of Strength & Conditioning Chris Kerr.

    “When I came from Grand Valley, I had the foundations to skate with (the Lady Flames),” Hoerr said. “I was fast, but obviously I wasn’t the player that I am now. I only got that way from being under (Head) Coach (Chris) Lowes, and playing with my teammates and them helping me to get better. I think it’s just kind of the same thing when I go to this next team. I’ll probably be lower on the depth chart, but that gives me a chance to keep growing and working and getting better from there.”

    She is continuing to train in the preseason camp with her former teammates under the direction of Lowes and Kerr as well as participating in the Pro Stride skating clinic, led by directors who have worked with the NHL’s New Jersey Devils.

    “I was really hoping I could stay long enough to do that again because that changed the whole game for me last year,” Hoerr said. “(The Pro Stride clinic will be) invaluable and just a good place for me to be right before going up to Montreal. This summer, I’ve been doing a lot of my off-ice training with Coach Kerr, which has been super beneficial. On the ice, we have an alumni skate every week with a lot of old (ACHA) DI guys, and that has helped me a lot because the pace is just faster.”

    She said the environment at Liberty prepared her well for whatever challenges she will face in Montreal, including a language barrier in the French-speaking province.

    “I’m an extremely competitive person and a lot of my teammates can attest to that,” Hoerr said. “It was great going out on the ice every day just having girls that would have my back and would encourage me to get better and feed off each other’s energy. With Lowes and (Assistant Coach Justin) Forth, they’re always striving for perfection, basically. It’s never good enough, but you want to get there. There’s always room for improvement and you can take that with you anywhere you go.”

    Hoerr prays with girls players during the Liberty Hockey Camp in July. (Photo by Chase Gyles)

    Raised in a Catholic home, she found the spiritual climate at Liberty refreshing, and will look to continue to grow in her spiritual walk as she steps out in faith to Canada, where she will be baptized by fire in a completely different culture.

    “I enjoyed being immersed in an atmosphere of players and staff who are strong in their faith,” Hoerr said. “It inspired me to explore faith on my own and start on my own walk, but it’s still new to me and I’m excited to learn more.”

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media